After years of success in Tennessee, head coach Jeff Fisher has done his best
while working with a team that was decimated by the salary cap and free agency.
And they've had their share of injuries to boot.
Quarterback Steve McNair continues to ride the edge of retirement while trying work through his own nagging injuries. So far this year, he's doing slightly better than his career averages, completing 61.9 percent of his passes (59.5 percent career), and earning an 83.7 quarterback rating (83.4 career). And he's coming off of a 343-yard, three-touchdown performance against the 49ers, despite completing just 56.1 percent of his passes. It's only the second time since the middle of the 2003 season that he's thrown three touchdowns in a single game. Fisher is hoping to get at least another year out of the man who has been the cornerstone of their franchise.
"Steve, I think, is going to see how he finishes up, how he feels physically and then make a decision," Fisher said on Wednesday. "I fully expect him, like I did last year, to come back. I believe he has a couple of more years left.
"He's had a good year as compared to the last two, from the standpoint of staying on the practice field and playing in games. He feels good, he's excited about where this team is headed, he's excited about the new challenges (Offensive Coordinator) Norm Chow has presented to him, and I think he's looking forward to the future.
Heading into this weekend's game at Indianapolis, Fisher knows Tennessee faces a huge challenge against the 11-0 Colts. But he sees progress in his team, which, like the Colts, now features one the youngest and most inexperienced squads in the NFL. The Titans were the only team on opening day whose players' average age was less than 25, and whose average experience was under three years.
"We've improved from the middle part of the season," he said. "We were young, and then we were injured, and that's not a good combination. We've started to heal up a little bit.
"I like the personality of this team. I like the way they're preparing and approaching everything from a day-to-day basis. They have an expectation. They've set the bar for themselves and they're meeting that right now. It hasn't translated into wins, but I'm confident that it will."
As his team prepares for the Colts, Fisher knows that Indianapolis is playing even better than they were two months ago when they ran roughshod over the Titans in Tennessee, 31-10. And he's been particularly impressed by the Colts defense which has only given up 14.5 points per game and is second in the NFL in that category. Ranked 10th against the run and 8th against the pass, the Colts have a defensive balance that raises their overall ranking in total defense to fourth in the league.
"I think with each game, they seem to be adjusting better," Fisher said. "Teams typically, as you get to this point in the season, have a tendency, especially speed teams, just to slow down a little bit.
"They appear to have gotten faster, so while the rest of the league is losing a step because of the wear and tear of the season, this defense specifically has gotten faster. So I believe they're better now than they were when we saw them earlier.
And Fisher had nothing but praise for the man that will be calling the shots across the sidelines from him this Sunday.
"I think Coach Dungy has done a great job preparing his team week after week," he said. "The team has a very good, solid mindset right now and the personality is great.
"What they're concerned about is the big picture, is getting home field throughout the playoffs and getting the chance to win the championship. I think he's done a real good job keeping them focused."
Rest assured that Dungy will make sure the Colts take the Titans as seriously as they did the Steelers. Because for Tennessee, this Sunday is their Super Bowl. It's the kind of game they can use as a building block for next year.
"As we know we're working our way back," he said. "We're scratching and clawing and climbing our way back into this thing, and we know it's not going to happen this year, but certainly our ability to match up in the division is going to determine our success in the future, and this is an opportunity to see how we match up."